CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Donald Trump has secured an expected victory over Hillary Clinton in West Virginia, a state that backed Trump for promising to bring back coal jobs and shunned Clinton for making comments perceived as an affront on coal.
The dynamic resulted in one of the few states where Republicans didn't shy from the billionaire businessman, and instead looked to ride his coattails. Meanwhile, many Democrats down ballot scrambled to distance themselves from Clinton and refused to endorse her.
The Mountain State was one of Trump's most supportive in the Republican primary. In May, the billionaire businessman donned a miner helmet at a Charleston rally and vowed to bring back coal jobs, largely defying economic forecasts.
Trump's team handed out signs that read, "Trump Digs Coal." If elected, he told the audience, "We're going to put the miners back to work."
"You're going to be working your asses off," he told the miners in the crowd.
Clinton suffered a loss in the Democratic primary to Bernie Sanders. Her husband, Bill Clinton, was the last Democrat to win West Virginia two decades ago. In May, the former president was booed when he went to the coalfields community of Logan.
The same day, Hillary Clinton was met outside of a campaign event in Williamson by hundreds of protesters in the rain who waved Donald Trump signs and chanted "Kill-ary."
Scott Roberts, a 41-year-old former coal miner laid off in 2013, said that if Trump helps even one more generation of miners keep working until retirement, that's an accomplishment. His suffering coal county, Boone, has "dried up and turned into a ghost town," he said.
It's time for a shift in the "same old, same old," Roberts said.
"Today, I cast a vote for Trump, just for the simple fact of not trusting Hillary, and I think it's time for change in the United States," said Roberts, a Madison voter with no party affiliation.
Republicans up and down the ballot constantly pointed to Clinton's statement before the primary that she would "put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business." In her full statement, she was stressing that the country can't abandon coal workers as the economy shifts away from fossil fuels. She later said it was a "misstatement," but the sound bite remained a key GOP weapon.
"I can't take it back and I certainly can't get people who for politically reasons or personal reasons, very painful reasons, are upset with me," Clinton said after the comment. "I'm going to do whatever I can to try to help."
Clinton already was hampered in coal country by her support for President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan, an anti-global warming push that imposes limits on carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants.
Clinton's campaign has said her visits to Appalachia show she's willing to reach out to everyone, including people who don't support her.
Denise Kennedy, a 58-year-old retired school teacher from Madison, said she thinks "coal is gone," and one person can't be blamed for its demise. She cast a ballot for Clinton on Tuesday.
"I believe she's been the object of a witch hunt for years," said Kennedy, a Democrat. "I don't think she's squeaky clean. No politician is. But she is more qualified to run this country than anybody else I can think of right now."